Reviews

"Raggin’ Jazzin’ Rockin' provides an excellent introduction not only to the history of American instrument making, but it also addresses, in a very readable fashion, the important contribution of diverse cultures to the story of American music." Christina Orr-Cahall, CEO and Director, Experience Music Project Museum 


"Susan VanHecke... provides biographies of famous instrument-makers who founded companies that have lasted for decades or centuries, like Steinway or Martin or Zildjian. The Zildjians' story - cymbal-makers starting in 1623 in Istanbul - exemplifies how fascinatingly VanHecke works. In each chapter, the biography of the central individual and family occupies the center. We learn where they started out, who moved when, who died how, who succeeded, and how the popularity of musical instruments waxes and wanes. The sidebars illuminate details both mechanical and cultural. Do you know the parts of a cymbal or its military history or what jazz musicians wanted from a cymbal? Eight chapters done with this depth and breadth make the volume quite remarkable and exciting." Chicago Tribune


"This large, well-designed volume tells the stories behind eight significant American makers of musical instruments: Zildjian (cymbals), Steinway & Sons (pianos), C.G. Conn (band instruments), Martin (guitars), Ludwig (drums), Hammond (electric organs), Fender (electric guitars), and Moog (synthesizers and theremins). VanHecke traces the history of these individuals and companies, telling how they succeeded through innovation and business acumen as well as linking themselves to tradition. Although a final spread introduces Ben Franklin's glass armonica, the main discussion focuses on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. With good use of color and many well-chosen illustrations, the broad, glossy pages are inviting. Readers drawn to chapters on specific instruments may soon find themselves exploring others as well. Sidebars introduce related information, historical sidelights, and significant musicians. Back matter includes a brief section of notes as well as a source list of books and websites. A handsome, clearly written book on a topic seldom presented to young people." Booklist


"This interesting music business read moves at a quick pace... Each chapter covers one instrument maker’s history and their relationship with famous musicians. Author VanHecke includes various musical sections, with chapters on the cornet, strings, drums and keyboards, while gushing over business pioneers, ranging from C.G. Conn to Steinway & Sons. Most music students, as well as history buffs and music lovers, will enjoy this book. Photographs and other illustrations pepper the book, including wonderful shots of famous musicians.From the country music of Bill Monroe and the classics of John Phillip Sousa to the jazz of drummer Buddy Rich and rock-and-roll legends John Bonham and guitarist Eric Clapton—readers will enjoy this back stage pass to the history of American musical instrument makers." VOYA


"Musicians and music lovers look no further. Raggin’ Jazzin’ Rockin’ is a book for everyone. From ordinary instruments like guitars and piano to fun little devices like the vibraphone and the cassette tape recorder, this is an interesting book. For example, included in this informative text are factual accounts of famous musicians. On another note, a portion of the book proceeds is donated to support music charities." VOYA Teen Reviewer


"This absorbing history examines the lives and work of eight innovators in the design and manufacture of musical instruments. From Avedis Zildjian, who brought his family’s centuries-old cymbal-making business from Turkey to Boston, to Robert Moog, whose electronic synthesizer rocked the music world, VanHecke’s portraits celebrate the inquisitive scientific tinkering, dedication to craft and business moxie that rendered Steinway pianos, Hammond organs and Fender guitars both household names and performers’ favorites. The writing’s freshest when VanHecke changes it up with bits of cultural trivia, like Beatles lore... Examining the effect of the Great Depression, the World Wars and immigration on these family businesses vibrantly contextualizes those issues for kids. Numerous well-captioned photos and period illustrations, sidebars and clearly labeled diagrams of the musical instruments expertly extend the text." Kirkus


"Susan VanHecke takes on an interesting bit of America’s cultural past in Raggin’ Jazzin’ Rockin’: A History of American Musical Instrument Makers. Filled with photographs and illustrations, this survey of some iconic instruments (Steinway pianos, Martin and Fender guitars) is an absolute joy to read. This title sits firmly in the department of “I never knew that,” and is filled with detailed backstories on the people behind some of the most iconic music brands in the world. You find out how they fled famine and war to come to the U.S., how they built their companies from nothing, the interesting side industries they found themselves in (the Steinways built gliders for the military during World War II), and the manner in which their inventions rose to the top of the market. The invention and innovation aspect ofRaggin’ Jazzin’ Rockin’ might just be the most significant; VanHecke shows how all instruments are most certainly not equal, and the manner in which continuous sound experimentation causes subtle yet significant improvements on pianos, guitars, drum sets, brass instruments, and synthesizers over the years. She takes what looks like (to non-musicians, anyway) static objects, and through profiling the people behind them, reveals what are actually continuous works in progress. From the basics of 19th-century design to the top picks of Ringo Starr and Eric Clapton, Raggin’ Jazzin’ Rockin’ is a celebration of what America is all about: dream big dreams, make wonderful things, and change the world through hard work. I didn’t expect to be so impressed and even moved by reading this book, and yet I was. It makes me happy to see what people have accomplished (and continue to improve). VanHecke has given me hope for what we can do when we try; for the brilliance we are all capable of. I’m a history geek and I know it, but sometimes you can’t deny how awesome nonfiction can be." Bookslut


"Whether they're marching in the school band, practicing for a classical piano recital, or lusting after a vintage Stratocaster, most young musicians will recognize the branding of musical-instrument companies examined here. VanHecke turns the spotlight on Zildjian, Steinway, Conn, Martin, Ludwig, Hammond, Fender, and Moog, many of which have passed their trade secrets and commercial reputations through American immigrant family dynasties. Each chapter-length entry discusses the innovations–technical and commercial–that gave the signature instrument (or in the case of Conn, a whole brass section) a leg up in the industry, often ensuring the company's survival through World War II materials shortages and the vagaries of evolving musical taste... Attention is also paid to the artists associated with a particular brand, from Anton Rubenstein on Steinway's grand piano to Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix on their Fenders." The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 


"Just as technological innovations have brought an enormous range of machines, devices, and gadgets into our lives, innovations in the design and production of musical instruments have enriched the types and quality of sounds we enjoy hearing. Inventions and improvements of musical instruments served as seeds for the business success of several American-based entrepreneurs.

"These entrepreneurs include Heinrich Steinway and his sons, creators of a tremendously successful piano company; William Ludwig, a maker of drums so renowned for quality that Ringo Starr from the Beatles had the Ludwig name painted in large letters across his drumhead; and Leo Fender, developer of one of the most popular electric guitars in history. These and other inventors of influential musical instruments had a keen understanding of how to produce new sounds and also how to grow their companies in changing economic times.

"This historical picture book provides an informative account of the development of eight U.S.-based companies that produce musical instruments, beginning with the early days of the founding fathers. Short vignettes of popular musicians who helped make these instruments a household name help to liven up the narrative. Although all eight company founders are white men, the author does make a consistent attempt to emphasize the role of women and African Americans in running these companies and playing the instruments as they advanced in their own careers." Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children



  © 2016 Susan VanHecke